Archive for the ‘2106 Presidential election’ category

Paris Attacks – Press and Politician Field Day

November 16, 2015

The cowardly and pathetic terrorist attacks Friday in Paris have once again shocked the modern world. How can young men still in their prime carry out mass shootings and bombings where their own lives are certain to be lost too. Why suicide attacks? Why attacks at all?

In all societies there are mentally deranged people who for a wide range of reasons undertake unprovoked acts of murder and mayhem. These mass killings also end up with the “whys”. Why did he/she do it? Why that victim? What was there to gain? The Paris attacks raise similar questions but the first “why did they do it” is much less uncertain.

Radical Islamic terrorist are responding to attempts to rebuild a caliphate and the Western world has a habit of throwing obstacles in their way. This is like theater of the absurd. A Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, or what ever group follows seek first and foremost economic power for its leadership group. Surprise, surprise, this is about money first.

As in all ancient societies, in the new Caliphate, the average person’s task is to work and contribute money to the leadership group. To help induce the average person to contribute, these radical Islamic groups serve up a brew of harsh, repressive Islam which still promises a great day in “Paradise”, with earthly reminders (like dismemberment, caning, and stoning).  This mix is intended to emphaize  that the Caliphate is the right way.

ISIS is the current top dog in terrorism. Its message falls upon receptive ears around the world wheres some local Muslims find their lot in life less than their neighbors. For reasons unknown, some of these Muslims find ISIS’ message convincing and sign up to “drink the cool aide”. Hence, the West gets “home grown” terrorists.

For the American press, the Paris attacks is another gratuitous event where there is suddenly a large audience awaiting reports on the details. The Paris attacks represents a double win for the press since both Presidential primary races have gone flat with little of interest emanating from the candidates. A little rest from the Trump’s, Bush’s, Clinton’s and Sanders’ would be welcome by readers.

Ah, but not so fast.

The candidates have little sensible to say about fixing the American economy, couldn’t the bluster about what they might do to eradicate ISIS?

Two of the best in terms of beating dead horses, Lindsay Graham and John McCain are making the TV rounds rattling their sabers.

Graham and McCain are still unapologetic about championing the Iraq invasion and occupation made famous by George W Bush. The world, according to these two, is better off today without Saddam Hussein.

On Monday’s talk shows, Graham and McCain have recommended that President Obama should recall former General David Petraeus and ask him to lead our efforts to defeat ISIS. Hmmm.

The lesson which every school child should be taught is that in the event of war, strange and unexpected outcomes usually happen. Hussein was a dangerous dictator surviving in a dangerous area of the world. He used by necessity cruel methods to maintain power but his victims lay within Iraq. Hussein’s removal, like the proverbial genie once the cork was removed, unleashed all sorts of unexpected (but predictable) consequences.

General Petraeus recommended the “surge” which increased the US troop count by 20,000 at a time when the occupation was going poorly.  Soon, however, the level of fighting subsided and the Administration once again declared “mission accomplished”.  Time has shown that simultaneous with the increased troop level, large payments were being made to Sunni militias who suddenly stopped creating problems.  Hmmm.

Stabilizing the Middle East will not be resolved with a silver bullet. Peace will require a comprehensive plan and will take time. What peace efforts do not need is cheap political talk from former “Iraq Invasion and Occupation” apologists.

Conservative, What Does It Mean?

November 14, 2015

Have you notices that none of the Republican Presidential candidates says, “vote for me, I’m a Republican”?  You do hear them profess that all the world’s problems are Democrat caused and that they are not a Democrat.

What you hear most is a Republican candidate say is he or she is a conservative, and then argue with emphasis, “a real conservative”. Hmmm.

For most people, the “conservative” or the “real conservative” claim, is not helpful in understanding what that particular candidate stands for (or against). The “conservativeness” examples used by the GOP candidates varies widely. It makes one wonder whether there are many types of conservatives or that the candidates really don’t know what a conservative really is.

For example, some conservative candidates are evangelicals and claim to have the ear of god (and vice versa). Other conservatives see the “boot straps” as the only measure of an American, “did the individual pul themselves up by the boot straps or not”? Still others, speak glowingly about our all volunteer Army and propose using our military to police around the world, “the world is a better place when American troops get involved”, they say.

The current crop of GOP conservatives (collectively) are for deporting (Mexican) immigrants, enacting a larger tax cut than each other, repealing the Affordable Care Act (with no details on a replacement), reforming (cutting) Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and eliminating more Federal Departments than each other (to reduce the size of Government). Do you get the feeling of “just saying no”?

The GOP appears to have lost its grip on a GOP brand. Brand management which serves as a glue to bind a political party’s message together, seems lost in today’s primary contest. Unless, of course, the GOP goal is to “be all (negative) things to all people”.

While the Democrat Party is positioned as the opposition, the Democrat brand is not the opposite of conservative. The term “progressive” might be closer to an opposite. And it is true that most Democrats see themselves as progressive (to some degree) although most Democrats would call them selves “centrists” (I wonder what that means?).

One would think that a conservative person would see a problem (like crumbling roads and bridges which are making the US less competitive globally) and choose a solution that represented a relatively small (but higher probability of working) change from the present. Progressives, on the other hand, are quite comfortable with large sweeping changes (with no means to know if the solution works or what to do if it doesn’t).

In the Republican debates, however, we hear of giant walls along the Mexican border and mass deportations of millions of undocumented aliens. Or, in an effort to simplify the tax code, we hear candidates proposing flat tax schemes which offer huge savings to the wealthy and are predicted to create enormous budget deficits. Fiscal conservatives or wild and crazy guys?

Hmmm.

GOP Snooze

November 11, 2015

The Republican National Committee’s Presidential debate last evening focused mainly on policy. Moderated by Fox, the debate (no fault of Fox) was a snoozer. Over night the media has rehashed the various comments and declared certain candidates winners and others losers. It seems, according to the media, that the candidates chose not to attack each other (and appear Presidential). Hmmm.

The candidates, of course, tossed out headline grabbing quotes. Ranging from deporting 11 million undocumented aliens to ISIS is the greatest danger on earth today (or as Lindsey Graham says, “ISIS is coming to America”) to tax code reform that will lead to growth in the 4+% range, the candidates could just as easily taken turns reading Mitt Romney’s 2012 stump speeches.

Worse than simply repeating old GOP promises, is repeating old GOP promises which have not been born out in fact. Cutting taxes on the wealthy simply does not stimulate the economy when those at the bottom (who buy what is produced) do not have enough discretionary money. Government spending on infrastructure could produce the means for greater global competitiveness (more jobs), but cutting taxes leaves no room for investment and reducing the debt.

Defense spending is a perennial GOP favorite and in some regards can be counted upon to stimulate the economy. Unfortunately, the GOP does not like to discuss the “guns or butter” aspect of Defense Spending with no new taxes.

The GOP does have a problem. The candidates currently are playing a game of “not losing versus each other”. How will they whittle down the candidate list and ultimately select a candidate?

Apparently the GOP is content with “free” advertising for their brand and will deal with any collateral damage later. In the meantime most of America would prefer football games or simply just a good “snooze”.

Government Follies

November 6, 2015

Federal Government carries a large responsibility to serve the people’s interests well.  Regrettably, too many times Congress or the Executive act in ways which are claimed as fact based but upon examination are both politically motivated and even worse, based upon false reasoning. Here are two bi-partisan examples. Representing the GOP is Congress’ repeated attempts to thwart President Obama from closing Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The Democrats have countered with Keystone XL decision.

The GOP has longed campaigned to keep Guantanamo open and has claimed that these detainees are the worst of the worst, represent an imminent threat to Americans, and it simply is too dangerous to transfer them in US Supermax prisons. There has been much speculation over the GOP rationale. Reason’s provided have been public safety, cost, and why try to fix something that is not broken. Hmmm.

Proponents for closing Guantanamo have said the GOP is really objecting for two reasons. First, the GOP has long opposed closing and does not want to discredit the neoconservative principles that set the detention facility up in the first place. The second reason sadly flows from GOP wishes to say “no” to anything and everything President Obama supports.

There is a sticky problem associated with these detainees. In US Courts, the fact that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods have been used may make it difficult to convict surely “bad” people. For the majority of the remaining detainees, simply charging them with anything credible is very questionable and most likely a reasonable court would consider their detainment unjustified and move to set them free. Would this set a precedent for the worst of the worst too?

One would expect a thinking government would reduce the number of detainees to the lowest number possible. With only the worst of the worst left, close Guantanamo and relocate the remainder in secure US facilities. With the terrorist world having now moved well beyond al Qaeda (like the world has moved beyond Windows 7, 8 and XP), should US Courts rule later for the release of these worst of the worst, what harm could there be?

The Democrats, not wanting to be outdone, have made a sorry joke of the XL decision. The Environmental movement has made XL a test case. The Environmentalist have alleged that building the pipeline is equivalent to endorsing CO2 pollution. Unfortunately, these green advocates appear to not realize the tar sands are in Canada and if the oil produced form these sands does not flow through the XL, Canada can ship it by train (far more dangerous) or move it to the West Coast and export to Asia (where demand remains high).

For a tried and true Environmentalist, the exact argument against building the XL makes little difference.  Lower fossil fuel production is all that counts. For Congress and President Obama, the argument favoring XL should focus on safety and concurrence from Nebraska where the pipeline is to be built.  Safety in the future should be a top concern. For example, if the pipe line were to rupture, what unintended consequences might there be?

Instead we have seen a typical GOP-Democrat food fight with both sides spewing out nonsense. The XL will not make a drop in the bucket with employment (new jobs) nor is it key to America’s energy policy. In fact today the urgency of completing the XL has been overtaken by the new oil fracking has brought to market. Fracking has been so successful that the price of oil has crashed and may not justify actually building XL at this time.

With safety concerns in hand and the State of Nebraska on board (the specific pathway), Federal Government approval should be a foregone conclusion. It appears, however, that President Obama will rule against the XL application on environmental grounds. (thinking ahead to the 2016 election and votes?) Sadly, the Federal Government will have spoken with an erred political tongue and will have once more taught the public how little the Government can be trusted to make sound decisions.

The US Healthcare Disaster

November 5, 2015

The Affordable Care Act sits precariously as the US healthcare delivery scheme. The Act brought the US kicking and screaming into the modern world with a large ethical and moral step forward. Our “exceptional” country was exceptional about healthcare but in a third world way.

Healthcare prior to ACA was marked by the label, “the best health care money could buy” and sported an out of control cost for delivering healthcare.  And best of all, not all Americans got healthcare.

Under pre-ACA conditions, an estimated 50 million Americans were without healthcare coverage. Some chose to skip insurance coverage (saving money) while most simply could not afford coverage or were denied it (pre-existing condition). In an enlightened country, one wonders how that could have been?

The answer lies mainly in two places. Most Americans were (and still are) insulated from healthcare delivery costs. Employers picked up most of the premiums and the average American simply did not see the need to question the healthcare delivery system. The second aspect of pre-ACA was the American Healthcare delivery system was a “for profit” enterprise with generous government support (namely Medicare and Medicaid) and seemed to have no ethical or moral conscience about whether the average person could afford basic coverage.

So what is different with the Affordable Care Act?

ACA strikes at the unfairness of the 50 million uninsured and does set up some strategic changes in how medical costs are generated. The individual mandate has helped prevent many Americans from “gaming” the system, skipping insurance while they are healthy and using Emergency Rooms if they do get ill. ACA also increased requirements for businesses to provide coverage, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for “pre-existing” or “extreme” illnesses, and “exchanges” were established to make available a wide range of insurance products which could be coupled with subsidies if the individual met certain income measures.

Despite ACA’s attempt at reforming how healthcare is delivered, the Act did not change the “for profit” orientation. So it should not be any surprise that healthcare costs continue to rise at breathtaking rates. Most doctors and hospitals are simply passing on increased costs and dragging their feet on any real structural changes. Drug companies who kept their ability to charge Canadians less for the same drugs as US citizens, have in a growing number of cases, raised the price of life saving drugs to unconscionable levels.

So to celebrate the Affordable Care Act, one must be careful about what one is complimenting. ACA is clearly better than what came before it, but there is a glaring deficiency with what are world class healthcare systems deliver.

So with every Republican Presidential candidate positioning themselves to repeal and replace ACA, what would one think their justification might be and how would they reform it?  Hmmm.

All candidates, in one way or another, say ACA is too costly and we can’t afford it.  A simple repeal means no more exchanges and no more expanded Medicaid services. It also means a return of insurance denying coverage for “pre-existing” conditions and being free to put a cap on benefits in catastrophic illnesses.  With the GOP it will be back to “the best healthcare money can buy”.

This is not world class.

ISIS and World War II

October 27, 2015

News reports today said President Obama would soon announce his approval of a military plan to move US military assets closer to the front lines in Syria and Iraq. What does that really mean?

On one level moving troops who are already there and not changing their mission seems like “no news news”. This announcement, however, could mean much more. And much more is probably not wise.

As World War II drew to a close, Allied Forces raced towards Berlin intent on getting there before Soviet troops. The race was all about territory and seizing most of Germany and its capital thereby keeping the Soviet Union contained in Eastern Europe. The Soviets had the opposite goal and wish to extend its influence as far as it could.

One possibility for the US Syrian repositioning might be similar to WWII. If one believes Assad is about to fall, then the US might want to have a presence in Syria.  Subsequently, a partitioned Syria might geographically provide the West with territorial advantages helpful in concluding a larger peace plan. In return for Russian withdrawal, the US could agree (without losing face) to withdraw too.

The US Iraq repositioning could follow similar logic but this time towards Iran. Iran will have continuing interests with Iraq and will want a route to resupply its client, Hezbollah, in southern Syria.

There is, unfortunately, another explanation.

“Head to tail” thinking (the opposite of comprehensive) has marked US Middle East involvement since George W Bush’s ill-fated Iraq invasion and occupation.   US military may be just saying they need their special operations personnel closer to the front than where they are currently placed without necessarily thinking about unintended consequences. Just a military tactical adjustment. Hmmm.

Until last week, it had been over two years since a US military member was killed in Iraq. With the death of a special ops master sergeant, the US may be stepping again onto a slippery slope.

The level and quality of Congressional “war talk” is extremely worrisome. There is no shortage of politicians willing to criticize President Obama, calling him weak and lacking any type of Middle East plan. If you listen, however, not a one of these chicken hawks has a comprehensive Middle East plan. The politicians are acutely aware that there is no stomach in the voting American public for another ground war in the Middle East but with elections ahead, these politicians want swagger points.

President Obama needs to demand comprehensive plans from the military which entail only the amount of troops currently there. The illusion that if ISIS were suddenly eliminated there would sunshine and peace in the Middle East must not take root in military or political thinking. ISIS is just the current group of thugs.

The Middle East is fundamentally a mess and will remain so until radical Islam is rejected and a real move to modernity is made. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

One of the great foreign affairs successes of the Cold War went by the name “containment”. US policy was aimed at containing, not eliminating the spread of Soviet Union influence. The US Middle East enemy is not Russia, it is rather the failed States/lawless radical Muslim extremist groups who are set on making a better life for themselves without adopting modernity.

Containment could be the answer once again.

What Should Jeb Do?

October 25, 2015

If there have been any questions about Jeb Bush’s view of his right to become President, these doubts should be vanishing. Bush entered the race as the presumptive nominee, someone who just had to act Presidential, raise a lot of money, and wait until crowned at the convention. At the time this did not seem that unusual given the declared and rumored potential candidates. Oh, how differently it has turned out.

Bush like Scott Walker hired expensive staffs and set up elaborate fund raising apparatus (which also cost a lot of money) and went to work creating policy positions. Bush chose to distinguish himself by telling anyone who would listen, “I’m the only true conservative in the field”. Hmmm, what does that mean?

The “most conservative label” appeals only to a precious few and has a lasting value of just the Republican primary. In the general election, it is more about specific policies on specific issues. A “real conservative” position on women’s rights, gay issues, immigration reform, taxes, healthcare, Social Security, and the wide list of entitlements will drive the election outcome.

As Bush has rolled out his policy positions, it should be clear that Jeb has set up a losing hand.

Beyond the policy substance, Jeb has been confounded by the apparent appeal of Donald Trump and Ben Carson, both of whom have not bothered to speak definitively about policy. Both candidates have caught the eye of early GOP voters and have left Jeb in their dust. Bush seems genuinely disgusted with the popular response and acts as if he thinks the electorate is too dumb to recognize that he is the better candidate (if not the only legitimate one).

So what should Jeb do now that he is running out of money and must reduce his staff?

Of all the “missing the moment” things Jeb could do, he has picked probably the most tone deaf one, he is meeting this weekend with his Mom and Dad and brother George W to discuss next moves. Would Donald Trump do that? Would Ben Carson do that? What would a President Jeb Bush do in a national crisis? Hmmm.

The most cost efficient step would be for Jeb to abandon his run and give back any residual funds to his supporters. Jeb Bush has a losing policy platform and a persona completely out of line with the electorate. Why waste time and money?

If Mom and Dad, and “W” were to provide advice, other than retiring, it might be to keep his head down and his mouth shut. Trump and Carson have no credentials to become President and sooner or later will be shown to be paper thin on policies. That’s 50% of the vote. As these candidates fade, others will rise. The only long shot position for Jeb is to appear, among the others, the best option in a wounded field.

This means Jeb needs to dial back his “I know it all” policy making positions and if cornered, boast about his experience (Governor), his maturity (his age), and stability (family centered values). And then Jeb should cross his fingers and hope that Carly Fiorina fades faster, that Marco Rubio stumbles under the pressure of almost winning, and John Kasich just doesn’t connect.

In my opinion, Marco Rubio and John Kasich are the two most likely nominees. Rubio will sell his energy and relative younger age while Kasich will lean on his wider experience than Bush and his much more forceful presence.

This weekend, Jeb will probably mumble, “you were right Mom, I shouldn’t have run.”